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Everyone Wants to be an Editor

By uczcew0, on 2 December 2015

On the first day of classes for my Publishing MA, our tutors asked, “Raise of hands, who in this room wants to be an editor?” More than half of the hands, including my own, made their way into the air. To this they gave us a knowing smile and said, “By the end of the week, we’ll see how many of you stick to that.”

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During a week-long module titled, “Publishing Context,” the class was introduced to people from every nook and cranny of the industry. While some of us stuck to our editorial dreams, many hands that were once eager for editing had switched sides. I myself began to waver in my convictions. The reasons for this included a better understanding of what editors actually do and a more comprehensive explanation of other parts of the publishing process. In my series, “Everyone Wants to Be An Editor,” I will be exploring the secrets this module revealed.

To begin, I think it is important to dispel some myths about what editors do. I don’t do this to scare away people from being editors, but to better inform you of what the job entails.

  1. Slush piles have moved – I know that I dreamed of starting my publishing days going through the fabled “slush pile” to find literary gold like I was Indiana Jones. The truth is nowadays most publishing companies do not take unsolicited material, meaning that many editors get the picks of the litter and are pitched books. If you want to be a manuscript archeologist, you will probably want to try working in a literary agency instead.
  1. Copyediting is rented out – Though I do not fit in this camp, there are those odd but beautiful people who enjoy the nitty-gritty of editing. They spot misplaced commas and spelling errors from miles away. While this skill is helpful, it is not always the main concern of editors. In fact, more and more copyediting is now given to freelancers because it is more economical. So if you felt you needed to join an editorial team to rid the publishing world of poor grammar, you might consider offering your services in this way. The work is more flexible and, if you’re lucky, you might get to work from home!
  1. Editors don’t make bank – On the first day of class, our guest lecturer asked us who wanted to be an editor. With a laugh, he said, “Oh good, so you don’t want to make money.” This is slightly hyperbolic because, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10% of editors do earn almost $100,000 a year (around £65,000). However, in the UK, the pay averages to £26,500, and that is only if you are lead editor. Assistant editors get around £20,000 and editorial assistants get around £18,000 (PayScale). Comparatively copyright/rights directors can make £45,000+ (Prospect). But book publishing isn’t about the money… right?
  1. You’re not always an author’s best friend – There are two reasons for this. First, you will have less contact with them than in the past. Literary agents often play liaison and technology makes it easier to send drafts back and forth with little interaction. Second, most authors will not appreciate you telling them that one of their characters doesn’t work or their favourite line is pretentious. Some authors might see you as the enemy, trying to change “perfection.” So if you wanted to enter publishing to rub elbows with literary geniuses, editorial might not be the best section for you.


These are just a few things to think about before you continue to pursue your editorial dreams. Next month, I will start to show you other publishing career options that might interest you, starting with literary agents.


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